THE first work on the new Cooks Hill surf clubhouse will be funded from an inheritance left by a beloved club member.
Construction on a streetscape-reshaping $4.5 million pavillion to replace the aging clubhouse began on Friday with a ceremony at Bar Beach.
Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club members paid tribute to the late Ozzie Higham, who bequeathed the proceeds of his house towards the new clubhouse.
Mr Higham was a “gregarious and outgoing” Cooks Hill resident who several club members knew socially before he became involved in surf life saving, life member and 1989-to-1993 club president Rod Harrison said.
When Mr Higham died recently in his late 60s, the club fulfilled his wishes for his house to be auctioned and the proceeds donated to the club.
The roughly $700,000 fetched at auction forms a significant portion of the funds for the first of two construction stages.
“When he knew his time was coming, he had no family other than the surf club,” Mr Harrison said.
“This work would not be possible or even able to be considered without Ozzie’s generous bequest. He wanted us to do something significant with it for the club.”
Mr Higham was a popular club member in the 1980s and ’90s, a hard-working fundraiser and a keen participant in Cooks Hill Gropers winter swims.
Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club spokesman and former Newcastle Knights forward Marc Glanville said the building’s first stage would be north of the existing clubhouse.
It would house female change rooms, storage and training rooms at beach level, with training rooms and a multi-purpose club room on the levels above.
Mr Glanville said the club had outgrown its building, which was built more than 80 years ago for an all-male membership of about 150.
“We now have over 1400 members and the existing facilities do not meet their needs, and certainly are a barrier to those who participate in our disability access programs,” Mr Glanville said.
The club has contracted Newcastle company Mars Building for the construction and has appealed for funds for the building’s second stage.
That will involve demolishing the old club and building more change, patrol and first aid rooms, a gym and a function room.
Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes praised the upgrade as one of several surf club developments “transforming” the city.
“This project will be a fantastic addition to work by the city council as part of the coastal revitalisation,” Cr Nelmes said.